Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A blogging conference that wasn't really about blogging

CAUTION:  Introspection ahead. 

Now then, before the incredible ladies who put together the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged (AWBU) conference get too upset, let me clarify.  This most certainly was a conference about blogging.  There were sessions on blogging and dozens of bloggers hanging out talking non-stop about blogging (among other things).  Heck, even the servers at the restaurant knew to ask us "are you the bloggers?"

For me, though, this experience wasn't about my blog, or the blogs of others.

In the beginning, it was about boots.

Free cowgirl boots from Country Outfitter to be exact.  I really am ashamed that I'd given fleeting thought to attending AWBU for a while, but until I heard about the boots, I wasn't sold.  How shallow.  ***hangs head in shame***

Beyond the boots, the experience was about identity.

The whole conference centered around identity, in my view.  Are we food bloggers, mommy bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, writers, women...those were the questions. Many AWBU recap posts I've read in the last days said some variation of "I was really afraid I wouldn't fit in."  That is also about identity.  That is about wanting to be an interesting enough version of ourselves to merit new friends and acquaintances.  It's always a strange dichotomy - we want to fit in, but we also want our individuality.  It was obvious that the conference achieved that for many of the attendees. It was great to watch. For me, though, I'm not sure.

If I'm honest with myself, I wasn't worried too much about fitting in at AWBU; I knew I wouldn't.  Most of the categories listed above (except for the "women" one) don't apply to me.  Plus, I'm not generally the type to form instant connections; it takes me some time.  I had a couple of great gals to share the roadtrip with, and we stuck together most of the conference.  Surprisingly, I knew several people there, and so we all got to spend some time around tables and between sessions chatting.  I loved that, especially since there seemed to be a silent pact among us that we wouldn't pull out our phones.  I have a bunch of new twitter friends, and some fun blogs to follow.  But I'm not sure I made new lifelong friends to help me on my blogging way.

This isn't a reflection on the conference, but on me.

See, on paper I am a blogger, but I wouldn't say I'm an actual "blogger."  Not like some of the women I encountered at AWBU.  Though I like to dream that my writing could one day be interesting enough to inspire someone to pay me money for it, I haven't trained or worked at it, and I don't spend much time trying to improve it.  I just like to write.  I've always been ok with that, and even after AWBU, I still am. 

In this blog space, I like to tell myself I have the freedom to write about whatever strikes my fancy.  In reality, I write about a small piece of what goes on in my brain, with a pretty hefty filter to keep me from delving too much into politics or workplace woes.  And there's a big old lid on my snarky side (though I'm sure it leaks out from time to time).  Within those boundaries, this blog has been about my search for identity.

How does a perpetually single working gal from New England make a life for herself in Arkansas?  Check that...how does she make a meaningful life? 

I discovered that last question at AWBU, during one of the "content" sessions.  I figured out the answer later, during another session.  It will fuel some changes and focus to this space in the future.  That made the whole trip worthwhile.

Still, I regret, just a little, that I didn't branch out and meet more new people.  Maybe, if I attend next year, that's what the conference will be about for me.   We'll see. 

Or maybe it will be about the swag.

Yeah, that's right. Enough of this introspection crap.  Let's have some fun. Grab a beer and join me on a journey through the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged swag bag.

1.  The Boots, from Country Outfitter.
You've heard about these already.  Mine were the Tony Lama's Golden Tan Navajo type.  They are cute as can be.  However, the acrobatics I had to do to get them off after a night of jig-dancing will make me reconsider my sock choice next time.  Stay tuned, because you might be able to win a pair in an upcoming giveaway (probably in October).

2.  The storage, from Ziploc
I swear, I have never seen more plastic containers in my life.  A few glass ones were thrown in there too, and some even had ice cream from Yarnell's in them.  At one point in the weekend, I crossed my fingers that I wouldn't win a bag of Ziploc products, because I'd already been given enough to replace my whole cupboard-full.  One good side effect of this might be that I can use my spiffy new glass containers to make packing lunches more fun.  Clearly I lead an exciting life.

3.  The boot polish, from Kiwi
Anyone know how to polish brown suede-ish boots? I would guess one doesn't use the black boot polish.

4.  Mrs. Meyers cleaning products & coupons
Whooee, that company is sure trying to make cleaning stuff a therapeutic process.  I'm not sure I buy it, but I will gamely go wash a pile of dishes in my sink that I left there before AWBU (quit judging).

5.  The Healthy Families bag
I tried, I really did.  But I wasn't able to muster the proper enthusiasm for the baby books and swag designed to help raise healthy kids.  So I gave the whole shebang to a friend who's expecting.  And wouldn't you know it?  This normally no-nonsense gal got all smiley and giggly.  Excellent swag relocation.

6.  Arkansas Farm Bureau - magazines and a sunglasses strap
I love farmers.  I also love their markets.  But I can guarantee you I won't be raising my next Thanksgiving dinner in my suburban backyard.  I will, however, enjoy reading about those who do.  And I will try to do so in a setting where I fear losing my sunglasses.  

7.  All You magazine
Brutal honestly here - there are too many magazines in the world.  I know, because I work in marketing, and I'm "offered the opportunity" to advertise in all of them.  However, I can't wait to read All You, especially since they claim I can walk off my midsection with their special workouts.

8.  Coupons from Petit Jean Meats
I was really, really hoping there would be bacon in the bag.  There was not. 

9.  Crayon white board from Crayola
I'm officially 5 years old anytime I see anything Crayola.  Where's my 96-count crayon box with the built-in sharpener?

10.  Zebra Duck tape from Acumen brands.
I don't know what I'm going to do with this tape, but it's definitely not going to be used for any typical duct tape tasks.

Plus, we had pens and notepads from nwamotherlode.com, thank you cards from one of our printing partners, and enough brochures and flyers to keep us busy for a while.  And the mason jar from Ball/Jarden Corporation, of course. 

So, if you want to tape something up while washing your new storage containers with lavender soap while wearing cowboy boots, come see me.  And if you doubt the validity of this swag haul, which was actually far too significant for one bag, I submit to you exhibit A:

Phew.  Ok, I'm done.  I have once again whiled away my evening blogging about blogging.  Next up, an exploration of "slow stories" encountered at the Ozark Folk Center.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I should be walking the dog..

Oh lord.  I have been the queen of procrastination tonight.  I have piles of work to do.  My dog is about to expire; she wants to go for a walk. right. now.  Now, dammit!

But I've found myself, instead, zipping around the interwebs, with about 10 tabs open in my browser, surfing Pinterest, facebook, twitter and various blogs.

This is because I attended a really interesting event this past weekend called the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged Conference.

I have a lot to say about what I learned and experienced there, but I'm not ready to blog about it in full just yet.  Suffice to say there were boots (lots of them, courtesy of Country Outfitter, and they were oh-so-cute on all the gals), there was a marriage proposal (can I get an "awwwwwww") and there was the amazing Ozark Folk Center, where I dropped some significant cash (well, credit) and came back with some handmade treasures that will show the world that I have truly adopted Arkansas as my state (for now, at least). 

Anyway, I snapped a couple of photos in the craft village that I really love.  I thought I'd share them and leave it at that.  More to come on the conference and blogging inspiration, plus more info about a very special upcoming giveaway.  You do not want to miss this giveaway.

But before I go, I have to give a shout out to Beth, Julie, Stephanie and Fawn, the ladies who put the conference together purely as a labor of love - just because they wanted to.  They gave me my first taste of conference style learning that wasn't work or school related, and it was both weird and wonderful to be learning for my sake, and mine alone. They are some pretty impressive women.

Enjoy! I'm off for a late-night stroll.

I wouldn't necessarily say that sewing and honeymoon are
words that go to together, but I was entranced by this
beautiful machine in the quilting shop.

Live music at the Ozark Folk Center.
A real working printing press.  So very cool.

Monday, August 20, 2012

5 ways to pretend you're a neat freak

Confession time.

I dabble in online dating.  There, I said it. Now that I've admitted it, a whole vista of blog possibilities have opened up.  It's a weird place to spend time, for sure.  But it does provide fodder for pondering.

One of the more bizarre aspects of online dating is the litany of questions that will supposedly help match you with a mate.  Some are ridiculous, asking if 1+7 = 9, and some are insightful and very helpful in the filtering process, such as "Do you believe the Red Sox are superior to the Yankees?"  But there's one that stumps me.

"Are you neat?"

Not neat as in cool.  Neat as in not messy.

My mom still yells at me about "leaving a trail." In college, I had a roommate who had to write a paper about "things that make you crazy."  She wrote about me, and my messy tendencies.  I still claim that that I was not a slob.  I wasn't super tidy - but this girl freely admitted that if my soda can crossed over to her side of the bedside tables, she freaked out.

However, when I tried to answer that online dating question, it presented a real problem.  I've given it a great deal of thought, and come to the conclusion that I'm not inherently a slob.  I'm just lazy.  This is not because I like clutter or mess - on the contrary - I just don't clean or pick up after myself with consistency.  My cleaning usually happens late on Sunday night or Monday evening, and it's of the "deep clean" variety - alternating loads of laundry with vacuuming a room, mopping and dusting, occasionally stopping to watch an inning of baseball or a 1/2 hour of TV on my DVR. 

That said, I like my house a lot better when it's clean, and I'll bet you do too.  So I've come up with 5 ways to fool ourselves and others into the illusion of neatness.  They don't quite mask the need to dust the TV stand or organize our shoes, but they can make a big difference:

1.  Make the bed.  This small effort can make a huge difference in your bedroom's appearance, and also protects you from the dog jumping up and leaving hair on your sheets. 

2.  Close the shower curtain.  Then, the razor that fell off the shelf or the bottle with the missing lid is hidden from the prying eyes of the unsuspecting public.

3.  Wipe the kitchen counter.  Even with a sink full of dishes, a clean counter implies that you cared enough to get rid of the crumbs and juice rings.

4.  Shut the closet door.  Actually, this applies to all doors.  Every 5 year old will tell you that the best way to clean your room is to shove everything in the closet and shut the doors.  Yes, mom always knows what you're up to.  But hopefully, now that you're grown up, she can't do anything about it, and you can always lay out essential clothes so you don't have to open it. 

5.  Vaccum.  Nothing says "I'm a slob" like 3 weeks worth of dog hair dust bunnies.  And the rugs look so much prettier!  Vaccuming also leaves nice patterns on the carpet, which can translate into "hey, see, I knew you were coming over and I cleaned for you!"

I guess, in the end, if you have to follow these rules to make your dwelling suitable for company, you probably shouldn't claim to be a neat freak.  But hey, you can hang out with me in that gray area of "not a slob, willing to make an effort."  That was an option on the online dating platform the last time I filled it out.

Now all I have to do is find a guy who will notice that I made the effort, and not judge me for the dirty dishes in the sink.  Preferably one who loves dogs, likes long walks on the beach and will cook me Indian food.  Shouldn't be too hard, right?

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Yankee gal's first cowgirl boots

Tonight, I attended the Taste of Country Festival at the Arkansas Music Pavilion with a few of my lovely coworkers.  Lest those of you who know me (and my musical tastes) begin to wonder, let me assure you that I have not lost my mind - it was for work.

We had over 7000 people there.  That's something to see, y'all.

I'd say, of those 7000 folks, 6000 of them were wearing boots.  Not boring black Nine West's like I own; these were cowboy and cowgirl boots. I have to admit I was envious (and felt more than a little frumpy).  I've never owned any cowgirl boots. Merrell hiking boots and Sorrell snow boots, sure, and I just recently convinced myself I could wear dress leather boots with skirts, but no cowgirls.  Sad face.  I mean, look how cute those gals look up there!

I'm delighted to report that this hole in my wardrobe will soon be remedied.

Next weekend I'll attend the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged Conference  at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas.  Since I'm not a big-time blogger and don't have a lot of followers, I wasn't planning to go, and then, well, I confess.  The boots happened.  Now, I've managed to con a co-worker into going with me, and I will get these snazzy boots (my 2nd choice, but still cute!) courtesy of one of the awesome conference sponsors, Country Outfitter.  And here's the kicker, gals.  Not only do I get a pair of boots to spice up my non-existent country music wardrobe and Halloween costumes...I get to give away a pair on my blog after the conference!

So, since there are only a dozen or so of you who read this blog, you have a good chance of winning!  You could also be nice and help me spread the word by sharing or retweeting this entry.  Karma and all that.

Anyway, I wish I'd had these boots tonight, but never fear!  There will be more country music shows, and soon one of my lucky readers will have a new pair of boots.  I'd say that's a good night's work. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Grand Pacific Northwest Adventure, Part 2 of 3: Portland, OR

Subtitle: Gardens, Gorges & Gabbing (July 3-6, 2012)

When we last left the GPNWAers Jenn & Jodi, they were working on getting Jenn to Seattle so they could drive south to Portland. 

Ok, back to the first person.  Whilst Jenn was languishing at the Minnesota airport, I spent the afternoon lazing about in our lovely hotel room.  Eventually, I got bored and decided to go see a movie.  It was Snow White and the Huntsman, which wasn't really worth remembering, despite the hotness of Chris Hemsworth.  Jenn finally arrived about 11pm and that was the end of that night.

Before heading to Portland, Jenn and I spent a couple of hours back at the Pike Place Market, and I got to see Seattle with the sun out!  At the fish counter, the fish guy tried to sell us a 20 pound salmon.  We declined, and went with the 2lb filet instead.  Some fresh berries for the road, some pepper jelly for good measure, and we set off, heading South to Portland.

The drive down wasn't very remarkable, except when large mountains appeared suddenly.  That was cool.  We spent the afternoon with a mutual friend & his friends celebrating the 4th of July by eating and drinking, and then found our way to our absolutely charming little B&B on Clinton Street (Tripadvisor comes through again!).  I think we both could have passed out, but we hauled ourselves into the car and ventured downtown to try to go to the legendary Powell's book store, but it was closed.  We parked and headed to the river to watch the fireworks.  It's always good to have your patriotism juiced by lots of explosions.

The next morning, we had a great breakfast cooked by our B&B owners.  Our tablemates hailed from San Francisco, Germany and Belgium.  Awesome.  Then it was off to begin our "Day of Nature."  We started with the Portland Japanese Garden, which was, no pun intended, the zen-ist place I've ever experienced.  Seriously, I could feel my blood pressure go down the further in there we went.  It was a marvel of garden design and contrast in textures.  There were benches everywhere, and more than once I found myself just, well, sitting.  Doing nothing but sitting and looking around me.  We've gotta get one of those in Arkansas.  Except for the climate difference, I don't see why we couldn't have one! After all, climate is a minor detail, right?

Down the hill was the International Rose Test Garden, probably one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.  Roses.  Everywhere.  Every color under the sun.  Decades worth of award-winning roses, all in one place.  It was one of those places that are designed beautifully, with wide lanes so kids could run and play and not bother the adults like me who had our noses stuck in the roses.  We also ventured up to Pittock Mansion, where we could see incredible views of Mts Hood & St. Helens.

Lunch was at a great place in The Pearl District called Bridgeport Brew Pub where we sampled some yummy beer and had some tasty trendy food.

Next, we headed out to the Columbia River Gorge with intentions to visit Multnomah Falls.  Due to a little miscommunication with Google Maps, we would up on the wrong side of the Gorge.  This actually turned out just fine, as we enjoyed a gorgeous drive and we got to cross The Bridge of the Gods ($1 seemed a cheap price to pay) to get to the other side of river.  Then we headed back to where were supposed to be, and found our way to Multnomah Falls.  The Falls are stunning, but they are really close to the highway!  I kept thinking we should have had to do more than drive and park.  At least a 1/4 mile hike or something?  But regardless, it was amazing.

Then it was back to Portland for dinner and drinks with another mutual friend.  That took us back to her house, and we sat around her backyard talking until it was too dark to see each other.  Gotta love Bolzies (alums of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration); we can always just lapse right back into our conversations about art and culture as if we were still at the Terrace in Madison.  Somehow, Jenn & I decided we needed donuts, so we visited Tonalli's Donuts & Cream (It was not the vaunted VooDoo donuts, but yum!!) and then called it a night.

The next morning we were a little slow getting on the road, after another great meal at our B&B.  We eventually made it back to Seattle, where we stopped for some Serious Pie for us and gas for the car, and then north we went to Vancouver.

To be continued...but first, I couldn't have a blog about Portland without the obligatory photo of Mt. Hood.  It's there, I promise.  Way off in the distance.  :)